Toward a Renewables-Friendly Grid

Evolution of the Smart-Grid Concept

Since the early part of this decade, the U.S. utility industry has been developing the conceptual framework for an electrical transmission system that would be more robust, interactive, and interoperable and would take advantage of the latest in computing, modeling, and control technology. Led by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), in Palo Alto, Calif., the effort has gone through several changes of name, as new concerns have assumed priority: first, reliability, because of the big California and Northeast-Midwest power outages; then cybersecurity, because of 9/11; and now conservation and renewable energy, because of energy dependence and climate change.

Initially under the banner of the Consortium for Electric Infrastructure to Support a Digital Society (CEIDS) [PDF], subsequently renamed the IntelliGrid Consortium [PDF], EPRI produced a succession of major technical reports in 2004, 2006, and 2008. These detailed how the nation’s grid system could be made more automated at all levels, remotely controllable by both consumers and providers, ”self-healing,” and accommodating to all manner of new technology. In a series of workshops beginning in 2005, EPRI sought to communicate its technical findings to engineers and managers in the field.

In light of that elaborate effort, when the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was given the job earlier this year of devising an architecture for a smart grid, the first thing it did was ask EPRI for a report. That report, delivered in June, will be the basis for a draft architecture that NIST will publish for comment in September.

Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—which regulates the interstate transmission of electricity—recently advised the regional transmission organizations it oversees (or RTOs) to map out broad interstate plans for where transmission should be built across renewable energy zones. It has also announced that it will entertain ideas for ways to get renewable generation interconnection requests expedited. The RTOs, in turn, are seeking FERC approval for new cost-sharing rules to make it less burdensome for renewable generators to absorb the cost of new transmission. They are also trying to make their rules more accommodative of renewable power’s intermittent nature.